Watercolor is a gorgeous, versatile medium for any artist. Armed with just watercolor pans or tubes, water and a brush, you can create quick, layered sketches for bigger paintings or make full ink and wash illustrations in a sketchbook. Watercolors blend and layer beautifully, capturing light and motion. They’re great for much more than just traditional paintings: use them for calligraphy, sketches on the go, or in coloring books. Find your starter set below.

Slim case: Kuretake Gansai Tambi 36 Color Set

Unleash Your Inner Artist

Beautifully pigmented Japanese choice. Amazon

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An elegant set of classic Japanese watercolors works great for illustrations, sketching, or sumi-e. These colors are clear and bright, and blend beautifully. Though the pigments are vibrant, they maintain a pastel, semi-transparent finish. Thirty-six pans fit inside a slim case, with a space under the cover for you to swatch all your new paints.

Most portable: Winsor & Newton Cotman Sketchers’ Pocket Box

For The Traveler

This well loved watercolor palette is perfect for taking on the road. Amazon

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Grab a travel-friendly, pocket-sized watercolor palette like this Winsor & Newton set if you ever plan on urban sketching or painting en plein air. The pocket set comes with 14 student-grade pan paints in essential colors and a tiny brush. The lid opens up to reveal mixing wells, so a waterbrush and a paper towel is all you’d need to start painting wherever you are.

Budget-friendly: Artist’s Loft Watercolors

A Vibrant Beginner’s Set

Great for sketches, calligraphy, or coloring. Amazon

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Just dipping your toes into watercolors? Want to experiment without fear of wasting expensive tubes? This 36-color pan set by Artist’s Loft is for you. At a budget-friendly price, you’ll get brightly colored pigments in a diverse range of shades.

Take your art up a notch: Daniel Smith Extra Fine Essentials Watercolor

Now We’re Getting Serious

Artist-quality paints to mix any color. Amazon

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If you’re getting serious about watercolors, it’s time to try artist-quality paints: they hold richer, purer pigments, which will lay and mix beautifully on the page. Artist quality paints may be pricey, but grabbing just a basic primary set of six tubes will let you mix almost any color imaginable (and practice mixing on the way). This set comes with three cool primaries (in yellow, red, and blue) and three warm primaries in 5ml tubes.